Blog: How to grow luffa in a cool climate

Delta BC

I was going through seeds leftover from a seed swap last winter when I spotted some luffa seeds. I am always up for a challenge so I tucked them away for planting. Luffa is a member of the gourd family and the young fruit can be harvested like cucumbers. If you let the luffa mature on the vine you can harvest them for the sponge inside. Yes luffa sponges can be grown! I think it’s why I had to try growing them for the first time. I did my research and found out they need a long growing period of about 150 days and lots of warmth. Would they do well in our zone 8 short season climate? Where could I grow them to ensure success? I decided to grow a couple of plants in the greenhouse.

 

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luffa seed
Source: Kristin Crouch

 

I wasn’t sure how old the luffa seeds were so I did some germination testing. I placed five seeds inside a moist paper towel and popped them into a sealed plastic bag. Within five days the seeds germinated. I only had a few that didn’t germinate. It was time to get them in some soil. I planted each seed in a four inch pot using fresh potting mix and placed the seedlings on heat mats in the greenhouse. Heat mats are the best thing ever. They keep the soil warm for your plants and provide quick germination of seeds.

 

luffa seedling
Source: Kristin Crouch

 

As you can see the plants really took off. I was now hearing gardeners being on the look out for luffa seeds. They were selling out at our local seed store. I decided to plant more luffa for my plant sale in May.

 

luffa
Source: Kristin Crouch

 

I was busy planting wedding flowers in my newly established cutting garden so the luffa plants patiently waited in the greenhouse to be potted up. They were getting ignored I’m afraid. Our daughters wedding became the priority. As you can see they still grew despite my inattention. I finally potted them up into seven gallon black nursery pots and placed them on the floor of the greenhouse.

 

luffa fruit
Source: Kristin Crouch

 

I watered everyday as the greenhouse was quite warm but other than water and some liquid fish fertilizer they pretty much grew on their own. Before I knew it tiny fruit started to grow. The vines travelled up to the roof of the greenhouse clinging to anything they could. I had visions of them climbing out of the roof vents and they did. 

 

luffa vine
Source: Kristin Crouch

 

By the end of summer this luffa was over a foot long and almost out of reach at roof level. The only problem was it was still green. I left it to ripen until the middle of October hoping it would change colour. One day I found it on the greenhouse floor, broken at one end. Was it lost? Would it still be usable? I was determined to figure it out.

 

luffa harvest
Source: Kristin Crouch

 

The other luffa I picked was starting to change colour so I brought it inside to dry out for a few weeks. It was quite light and I was hopeful. Luffa should be a tan colour when ready to harvest, not green. I could hardly wait to see what was inside.

 

luffa peeled
Source: Kristin Crouch

 

I made a careful incision with a knife to open the peel down one side. Using my thumbs I peeled the skin back to reveal the sponge inside. It was green and I could see the seeds inside. It was very moist and I wondered what to do next. Common sense prevailed and I cut the sponge in half and started to rinse them under warm tap water. I rinsed and squeezed to get any slime and seeds out as best I could and let the sponges dry until the next day. I did the same thing the next week with the unripe luffa that had fallen. I figured removing the skin would let it dry out quickly as opposed to leaving the skin on.

 

luffa cut
Source: Kristin Crouch

 

The first luffa sponge was loaded with seeds and they were black. I used a wooden skewer to poke most of the seeds out. I now have sixty seeds for next season! The white seeds are not ripe enough so they became compost. The second luffa had seeds that were not viable.

 

luffa dried
Source: Kristin Crouch

 

After a few days of rinsing and squeezing more seeds out I was done. The luffa sponges were still a bit green in colour so I decided to place them in a bleach and water solution to lighten them. I used a tiny bit of bleach and soaked them for fifteen minutes turning them over so all sides were in the water. I squeezed them out and left them to dry.

 

luffa bleached
Source: Kristin Crouch

 

I didn’t have the largest harvest but at least I had something. This is how the luffa looks now. They can be used in the shower or bath or as dish scrubbers. I keep thinking I need to make soap to go with these but this gardener is not crafty. I can grow anything but crafting is not my field of expertise. Have you grown luffas before? I would love to hear your stories. Next season I will try planting them along a fence that has agricultural wire on it, in a raised bed next to the greenhouse and over our rose arbor. Who knows, maybe I will become the luffa queen of B.C.

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